Dev Hynes’ fourth album as Blood Orange, Negro Swan, is a complex meditation through black depression, black existence and the ongoing anxieties of queer people of colour, combined with his own autobiographical experiences. However it is also his most hopeful album to date, with hope being an underlying theme connecting all the tracks together. The transitions from one track to the next are extremely effective, transporting the listener from one place to another, and immersing them within Hynes’ world. The background sounds of a busy New York City, as well as writer/transgender activist Janet Mock’s narratives leading into each track also serve to only emphasise the listener’s experience, and the degree in which we can relate to Hynes’ crafted world.
On first listen, the album appears sparser this time, lacking the funk grooves of Freetown Sound and Cupid Deluxe, however there is more depth in the arrangements of his typically dreamy and reverbed instrumentation, which shows off his growth since his last record. “Jewelry” is an experimental highlight which encapsulates black joy and acts as somewhat as the centrepiece of the album. The album reaches all the way back into his childhood memories with opener “Orlando” and the murky, ethereal “Dagenham Dream” which detail him being bullied and beat up as a child, with the former’s visceral hook of “First kiss was the floor”, then into his teens with the experimental yet catchy “Nappy Wonder” which touches on skateboarding as a form of escapism, and finally into his adult years with tracks like “Saint” and “Runnin’”.
The highlight “Chewing Gum” which features contributions from A$AP Rocky and Three 6 Mafia’s Project Pat is the album’s most hip-hop influenced track, touching on the exhaustion felt from Hyne’s ongoing anxieties and trauma, and while still insanely vibey, Hynes also manages to combine it with a tribute to the original Memphis rap sound.
Negro Swan is an impressive record, drifting free from the boundaries of musical structure while also empowering the marginalised.